Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal ★★★★½

Immensely empathetic and triumphantly bittersweet, Sound of Metal follows a drummer as he struggles with hearing loss. Riz Ahmed gives an enormously emotional performance as Ruben with a minuscule amount of dialogue, using his endlessly expressive eyes to perfect effect. In a role that could easily drift into predictable explosiveness in its biggest scenes, Ahmed only has one major outburst, then spends the rest of the film quietly mourning his character’s loss. Even in the scenes we can hear, his crying is nearly silent, which is far more realistic and heartbreaking than the huge breakdowns we’re used to seeing from other actors. And there’s never a moment in which you feel like he’s pretending to not hear — he thoroughly convinces you that he cannot in every single scene.

He’s backed up by a wonderful Olivia Cooke, who movingly embodies the concern of a loved one who wants the best for their partner, but doesn’t know how to fit into the new equation. And the remainder of the cast, which includes numerous hearing-impaired actors, gives earnestly natural performances, with Paul Raci as a clear standout — he’s a steady beacon of hope in the film’s darkest moments.

It’s easy to temporarily understand fragments of Ruben’s experience thanks to the amazing sound design that echoes his own limited hearing, which gives a strong sense of the chilling loneliness created by muffled silence. It’s a phenomenal effect that further enhances a movie that’s already so full of loneliness, conflict, and hope. I’m kind of amazed at how many great 2020 movies captured the essence of the year — along with Soul and Palm Springs, Sound of Metal marvelously distills the overwhelming anxiety of a cataclysmic life shift, as well as the gratification of coming to terms with the new normal and appreciating the smallest simplicities.

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